Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012
Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012

Ahram Weekly

What went wrong in Sinai?

Tribal chiefs accuse the government of gross incompetence in Sinai, writes Ahmed Eleiba

Al-Ahram Weekly

Security checkpoints in Sinai are being attacked on an almost daily basis. As tensions grow militants are increasingly flexing their muscles and the tribes grow ever more restless under the heavy-handed tactics of the authorities.
Developments in the northern part of the peninsula are feeding the frustrations of tribal chiefs.
“Preparations are underway for a day of anger on 20 November,” says tribal chief Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Menei. “We will close down crossing points in Rafah, Al-Awga and Nuweiba to protest against inexplicable government policies in North Sinai.”
Tribal leaders say the government has failed to address the real issues. They want the tunnels through which members of violent groups infiltrate Sinai closed and a complete overhaul of the security apparatus. They are also demanding tangible progress in the economic development of the peninsula and want it made easier for them to own the land on which they live and work.
Recent legislation makes it possible for Egyptians to own land in Sinai, but only if they can show they were born of Egyptian parents. This is proving a problem for some of Sinai’s Bedouins who until recently were nomadic, and not given to the keeping of records.
“How can they ask us to prove we are Egyptian? How can they ask us to come up with documentation going as far back as 1911? We all know each other. The tribal chieftains know their sons and their clans. Those who question our Egyptianness question the Egyptianness of Sinai, for we are the true sons of this land,” says Al-Menei.
Another thorn in the side of Sinai’s tribes is the growing number of sentences passed in absentia on tribesmen. Security personnel, they say, are acting with more brutality than ever and corruption among them is rife.
Political activists have come up with initiatives of their own to tackle the problems in the peninsula. What is needed, they argue, is for government heavy-handedness to be replaced by community action.
Revolutionary socialist Ashraf Al-Hefni believes the tribes should take the lead in confronting security and political problems in Sinai. The state must step back because it is part of the problem, he says, not the solution. Which is not to say the north Sinai activist sees no role for the army in Sinai. But for the army to restore its influence in the peninsula Al-Hefni believes the Camp David accords have to be revised. Current arrangements under the peace treaty have made it far too easy for the peninsula to be infiltrated.
“The army must be present in Sinai. It should impose its authority and deal with the outlaws,” argues Al-Hefni. Interior Ministry personnel, on the other hand, should be withdrawn “because they do not see themselves as part of the revolution”.
Military analysts differ in their assessments. Some claim increased attacks on security forces are evidence that security forces have been dealing painful blows to criminal groups. Others, including Major General Mohamed Ali Bilal, believe the recently mounted Operation Eagle has failed.
Pacifying Sinai may take years.
“You cannot expect the fight against terror to end overnight. To tackle a situation as complex as the one in the peninsula needs more than a few months,” says Brigadier General Safwat Al-Zayat.
Al-Zayat is critical of those seeking to build community-based institutions in Sinai as an alternative to government presence.
“How can people demand a Sinai governing council run North Sinai independent of the state? We fought the 1973 October War, and the army liberated Sinai before those who are coming up with such ideas were born. We need solutions, not fairy tales,” Al-Zayat says.
For now the government seems to be leaving the door open for dialogue with Sinai-based militants. It is a policy, say critics, that could easily turn into a double-edged sword. If the government continues to seek reconciliation with militants the latter will press ever further demands.
Ali Bakr, an expert in Islamist militancy, warns that jihadis are already acting with unprecedented boldness in the peninsula.
“The army and security forces are retreating and the jihadis are now bargaining with the state for the implementation of demands — including enforcing Sharia and confronting Israel — on which even their rank and file disagree. The jihadis will compromise Egypt’s position and embarrass the regime... The only way to deal with those groups is to cast fear in their hearts.”
Freedom and Justice Party media advisor Ahmed Sebei has revealed a meeting was held on Sunday with Sinai experts and residents in an attempt to formulate a fresh approach to the peninsula’s problems. The Wasat Party has also launched its own Sinai initiative.
Muslim Brotherhood sources remain sceptical about the Wasat’s motives. The party, they claim, appears to be seeking publicity.
The Muslim Brotherhood itself is viewed with growing suspicion by many Sinai activists. The group, says Mosaad Abu Fagr, together with its president are contributing to the dilemma rather than solving it.

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